In 1942, Friedrich Weimer's boxing skills get him an appointment to a National Political Academy (NaPolA) - high schools that produce Nazi elite. Over his father's objections, Friedrich ...
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In 1942, Friedrich Weimer's boxing skills get him an appointment to a National Political Academy (NaPolA) - high schools that produce Nazi elite. Over his father's objections, Friedrich enrolls, seeing this as his ticket out of factory life to university and a good salary. During his year in seventh column (fifth form), this innocence is altered as Friedrich encounters hazing, cruelty, death, and the Nazi code. His friendship with Albrecht, the ascetic son of the area's governor, is central to this education; a night in the forest hunting for escaped Russian POWs brings things to a head. Written by
This is a superb film - miraculous performances from the whole cast, especially Max Riemelt and Tom Schilling. Script, direction, lighting, camera-work, editing, sound effects and music are wonderful. It's a spellbinding film of extraordinary emotional power and haunting in its beauty.
I'll just make a few of points no one else has mentioned. You may remember that Alfred Hitchcock used to make cameo appearances in his films. They were jokey and lasted only a few seconds. Well, the director of this film, Dennis Gansel, also appears in an acting role. Only he's serious, not jokey. If you look at the beginning of Napola you'll see Dennis Gansel takes on the role of the coach at the boxing club. He makes a disparaging remark about the Napola students who are present and turns away in disgust when Friedrich agrees to try to join the academy. Thus the director subtly signals to us the attitude he's going to take throughout the film.
One of the things this film shows is why Nazism was so attractive to many young Germans. The Nazis knew how to target young people and play on youthful idealism. They used this idealism as a cover for their murderous agenda. They not only coerced people; they seduced them. Gansell shows this seduction at work.
Someone once said Hitler was a gangster, but a gangster with style. When it came to style the Nazis had few rivals. Even today their ceremonies, festivals, rallies, buildings, cars, fighting machines and uniforms excite awe. Many young Germans found them irresistible. The Nazis seemed cool. The Hitler Youth wore designer uniforms. The black uniforms we see the Napola boys wearing were designed in the 1930s by a German fashion house that still exists - Hugo Boss. The firm also designed the black uniforms of the SS!
Nazi Germany was a country in uniform. It changed the way people looked, felt and acted. A key moment in the film is when Friedrich first puts on his black designer uniform - complete with a so-called 'dagger of honour' worn on the left hip - and stares at himself proudly in a mirror. Overjoyed, he goes down to the assembly hall and finds himself surrounded by dozens of cadets all wearing black designer uniforms. He is now - he thinks - part of the elite.
Napola is a subtle and multi-layered film that deserves repeated viewings. Gansel avoids the mistake of overloading his movie with dialogue. The script is terse. Sometimes there are few, or no words at all as he lets the pictures tell the story. Things are hinted at and not spelt out and it's possible to miss them on first viewing. But they're all there. For example, it took me time to realise that Albrecht is not only Friedrich's friend. He's also the conscience of the film - the moral centre. He gets inside Friedrich's mind and changes the way the young boxer thinks about the Napola and the Nazis.
Then there's the look of the film. The movie is set in the late summer, autumn and winter of 1942. The Third Reich was past the high summer of its success - 1940 - and was now entering the autumn of its years. This is reflected in the retro lighting and colours of the film. Nearly all the colours are autumnal, or wintry - brown, khaki, green, blue, black, white. The only bright colour in the film is red - the red of the Nazi flags and banners, the red of the Nazi armbands, and the colour of human blood.
Dennis Gansel comes at the Nazis from new angles and provides valuable insights into the German mind. Although a former cadet rubbishes Napola on this site many of the things Gansel describes in his movie really happened. You can compare his film with a TV documentary series on Nazi education on YouTube. It's called 'Hitler's Children.' Episode 2 - Education - deals with Napolas. It contains archive film from the 1930s and '40s and interviews with former cadets.
Incidentally, many Napola cadets who survived the war rose to become respected members in the new Germany. One became a famous actor - Hardy Kruger. He starred in many British and American films, as well as German movies. Kruger attended the Napola at Sonthofen. While training Kruger and two other cadets had to hack two holes in the thick ice of a frozen lake. The holes were 10 yards apart and the cadets had to climb into one hole and swim under to ice to the other.
There are various DVD editions of Dennis Gansel's movie Napola - some with no features, others with interviews and documentaries. The German edition contain the most deleted scenes, interviews with the cast, and a director's commentary which I desperately want to understand. Unfortunately everything is in German. I speak only English! There are no subtitles. Could I make a plea to Dennis Gansel to issue a two-disc special edition (with subtitles in various languages) bringing together all the interviews, features etc that are scattered across the various editions. Also any other material he has about this remarkable film lurking in his archives. And we need it on Blu-ray please.
As a general point - many of Max Riemelt's films exist only in German editions. They have no subtitles. I think they would have a much wider audience if they did.
Incidentally, Max speaks good English. He has a delightful German accent, tinged with American sounds. I'm writing this review some years after Napola appeared and he's made many films since. Surely it's about time a British or American director discovered Max and put him in a movie. He could play a German character speaking in English. I'm sure he'd have a great impact.
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